By Zak Stone
In countries where corruption and bribery are a regular part of daily life, part of the is that no one speaks up about particular incidents--which makes its hard to document, measure, and, ultimately, eradicate. A new app called Bribr raises awareness about corruption in the bureaucratic complex of mother Russia--which ties with East Timor to rank 143 out 183 on Transparency International's corruption index--by providing a platform to let citizens anonymously map out how much money they spent on a bribe, where, and for what.
Since September 24, users have documented 5,065,851 rubles (about $159,970) worth of bribes, paid everywhere from fire departments, to courts, to that unexpected den of corruption: kindergartens. (Greasing the wheels to get five-year-olds into school apparently accounts for nearly one-tenth of the bribe dollars reported on the site).
The website's twenty-member team of volunteers frames their mission as an apolitical one: they're about the facts. "The conclusions and opinions--not our job," they write.
Indeed, the site's attitude toward bribery is rather non-judgmental against the individuals who participate, since the problem is so systemic. "In some cases bribes compensate for the low official salaries, in other cases the laws are written in ways that make it impossible not to violate them," reads a translation of Bribr's `manifesto' posted to the international blogging and translation network GlobalVoices. "Sometimes we offer bribes ourselves, sometimes they are being extorted from us--but most often bribes are taken and given because this is how the system works."
Thus, users who report the bribe are asked to provide the location where the bribe happened but not the name of the person who accepted it. Future releases of Bribr will include a button that says "I took a bribe," for self-reporting.
While similar crowdsourcing initiatives have thrived in other countries that struggle with corruption, most notably India and Kenya, similar efforts in Russia have always failed. The app, which was released in early October, was downloaded 7,000 times in the first two days, according to The Moscow Times.
Bribr founder Eugene Kuyda told the paper, "The reaction to bribery needs to be really strong. If you engage in bribery, then you should hear, 'Are you crazy? What do you think you're doing?' " she said. Getting the conversation started online is a needed first step.
Copyright 2012 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.